2020 Toyota Camry TRD Review

Dad racer

It’s hard to explain the feeling you get when you catch people checking out the Camry you’re piloting. Yes, a Camry.

It happened a lot during my week with the Camry TRD. For the 2020 model year Toyota gifted its trusty mid-size sedan with the Toyota Racing Development badge for the very first time. Opt for those three letters and you’ll get the cheapest available V6 Camry in the lineup, with a handful of choice chassis changes and an aggressive bodykit. To my eyes the current Camry, launched in 2018, was already a pretty good-looking vehicle for its class. The TRD treatment simply commands attention from passersby, which can be both good and bad.

In fact, it’s that double-edged nature that defines the Camry TRD: for every perceived positive it brings to the Camry’s repertoire, it also takes away. It will appeal to a very particular set of people with a very particular set of requirements: value, V6 power, and a hint of sporty dynamics.

Sport sedan makeover

So what turns the Camry, long the target of cars-as-beige-appliances jabs, into a TRD? It’s hard to miss the barmy bodykit: the front lip spoiler, side skirts, and (especially) the dramatic rear spoiler make the Camry look like it just wrapped up a track day. A 0.6-inch (15 mm) drop in ride height helps too, as do the seriously cool 19-inch matte black alloy wheels, wrapped in 235/40 Michelins. The blacked-out roof also visually drops the Camry, and Supersonic Red is the color to get.

Two stainless-steel cat-back exhaust tips poke out on either side of the rear diffuser, providing the 3.5-liter V6 with a stronger singing voice. It’s here that the Toyota has an advantage over the rest of the class: it’s the only naturally-aspirated V6 left. With the exhaust upgrade, the Camry sings in a way no turbo-four can, without falling into boomy territory. Even better, it doesn’t resort to piped-in sound effects when you give it the beans.

That’s a good thing, since there’s no extra oomph over any other V6 Camry. The six-pot puts out the usual 301 horsepower here, with 267 lb-ft backing it up. Power is sent to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic. If you want all-wheel drive in Toyota’s mid-sizer, you’re limited to the four-cylinder model.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Toyota Camry and 2021 Avalon Gain All-Wheel Drive Options

Like the TRD truck models, the Camry benefits from chassis tweaks to make the most of its existing drivetrain. Toyota has fitted stiffer springs, unique shocks, and bigger brakes to the Camry TRD, letting it corner harder and stop faster.

Genuine fun behind the wheel

From behind the leather-wrapped wheel, the changes give the Camry a more positive front-end feel. It tracks true into corners, staying flat where other trims would wallow. The wheel itself is still feather-light, though that’s par for the class these days thanks to electrically assisted power steering. As you’d expect, the ride is harsher, but not uncomfortably so, and never feels crashy. Throwing the TRD down a few choice back roads is genuinely fun.

That being said, the throttle mapping and transmission tuning let the side down. The eight-speed auto is a fine unit for the daily schlep, but the long gears make it hard to keep the TRD’s sweet-revving V6 in its sweet spot. Throttle response is lackadaisical in Normal and Eco modes: you’re practically required to run the Camry in Sport mode at all times for any semblance of urgency.

Don’t get too excited about the manual control option for the shifter either. It doesn’t select individual gears but rather ranges: “M4” will limit the computer to the first four gears but it will still use any of them as it sees fit.

The uprated brakes, measuring 12.9 inches up front and clamped by two-piston calipers, have a strong initial bite and a consistent pedal feel. They never feel like they’re going to wilt under pressure.

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Still a practical sedan

The benefit of Toyota using the Camry package means buyers get one of the most usable, reliable mid-size sedans in the business. There are acres of space front and back for people, with 38.3 and 38.0 inches of headroom, respectively. Thank the TRD’s required moonroof deletion for the extra noggin space. Even an NBA player should find the 42.1 inches of front legroom acceptable; rear row leg space is also 38.0 inches. Trunk space remains unchanged at 15.1 cubic feet—a bit behind the 16.7 of the Honda Accord—but what is different is the inability to fold the rear seats down. Sorry, sports fans: the structural bracing behind them is to blame. That’s the trade-off you’ll have to accept for more engaging handling.

The Camry TRD is also reasonably fuel efficient for a 300-horsepower four-door. Toyota quotes 22 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, for a combined rating of 25 mpg. That’s slightly worse than other V6 models, likely due to that in-your-face styling. My week of mostly city driving turned out 23.5 mpg, so the average should be easily achievable. As a bonus, that tried-and-true 3.5-liter V6 will happily sip on 87-octane fuel instead of the pricier pump.

Light on gadgets, big on value

There’s a reason the $32,125 TRD ($38,530 Canadian) is the cheapest V6 model by a fair margin. Toyota has essentially used the SE trim as the base here (or XSE in Canada), dropping in the big engine, amping up the looks, and keeping only the essentials. The one chair in the house with power adjustability is the driver’s seat. There’s no head-up display, no wireless charging, and neither vents nor USB outlets in the back row. In back there’s just a little cubby, from which nearly anything you put in it will come tumbling out at the mere sight of a corner. Depending on your needs that all might be fine, but unfortunately there isn’t even an option to add most of it back in.

The interior does get a minor update for TRD duty. No surprise that red is the color of choice here, with contrast stitching gracing the dash, seats, steering wheel, and shifter. There are red TRD logos on the headrests too: they might look uncomfortable but prove fine on longer drives. If I had to quibble about the SofTex-wrapped seats it’d be the lack of lateral support, now that the Camry TRD eggs you into hunting down higher and higher g forces.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Toyota Prius AWD-e Review

Red seatbelts round out the sporty look. Even the dials are red, which looks great when parked, but can be nearly impossible to read with sunglasses in direct sunlight. The 7.0-inch touchscreen is smallish in 2020, but it’s easy to read and now finally includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. Everything falls easily to hand and the central storage is sizeable.

Toyota’s safety suite is standard fit here, bundling in things like auto high beams, dynamic cruise control, lane-keep assist and automated emergency braking. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are unavailable with the TRD trim however. Luckily it’s an easy shape to see out of.

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Verdict: 2020 Toyota Camry TRD Review

The Camry TRD is a pleasantly old-school experience. It riffs on the classic muscle car recipe: strip the content and drop in the largest engine. The money has gone where gearheads will appreciate it: the handling. This Camry sounds good, drives well, and is a lot of car for the money. If you’re still a sedan diehard and want something equal parts family-friendly and fun, rest assured the Camry TRD is more than just a badge-job cash-in.